Biff ready to strike

2013-12-18 00:00

PROTEAS captain Graeme Smith recognises the importance of starting well in the opening Test of the two-match series against India, at the Wanderers today.

Full of confidence after the team came back from a poor first Test against Pakistan in the UAE to level the series — Smith himself adding a fifth double century to his Test batting CV — the tough left hander is confident he has the right combinations to strike a telling blow first up.

“We have the same team that did duty in the second Test in Dubai, Hashim Amla coming in for Dean Elgar the only slight adjustment,” he said. “It’s been a bit stop start as far as Test cricket is concerned but it’s important to start strongly, play hard and respect the game.”

Having looked at the wicket yesterday, Smith said there was some moisture, with a few cracks. “It looks the normal Wanderers wicket, which offers pace and bounce to the quick bowlers,” he said. “However, all bowlers can be effective on this wicket and the trick is to hit the ground running. We have had some tough training sessions in the build up and want to get on the park and play good cricket.”

India’s batting has looked rather brittle against the South African pace attack to date in the ODI matches, but Smith was not fooled.

“They have talented batsmen but the conditions are different to what they are used to. It’s a test of character batting at the Wanderers and it is tough to bat against us, on home soil, facing the new ball,” said Smith.

“It’s crucial we post decent totals. We have been beaten here by India before and we need to be the front runners from the start in the series.”

Indian pace bowler Zaheer Khan has been added to their Test squad in an attempt to get Smith out early. Khan has dismissed Smith six times in nine Tests but Smith is relishing the challenge.

“I’m not losing any sleep over it and I am looking forward to fronting up to him. My goal is to get out there and perform well,” he said.

For Smith, the bottom line is to perform like the No 1 ranked Test side and he backs his team one hundred percent to deliver the goods.

“We have confidence in each other’s ability and there is a hunger to perform,” he said. “We have set standards and have a culture and legacy to aspire to.”

Leg spinner Imran Tahir is in the side as the specialist spinner, Smith saying he understands his role and offers an attacking spinning option.

India are expected to be in the firing line when the Protea bowlers take ball in hand, none more so than Virat Kholi, who fills the number four spot left by the legendary Sachin Tendulkar.

South African Team: Graeme Smith (capt), Alviro Petersen, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, AB de Villiers (wk), Faf du Plessis, JP Duminy, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Imran Tahir.

India (possible): M Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane, MS Dhoni (capt & wk), R Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Zaheer Khan, Mohammed Shami.

• Indian captain MS Dhoni is the only Indian batsman in the top six to have played more than 20 Tests. Today is his 50th as captain.

• Vernon Philander needs five wickets to reach 100 Test scalps.

If he succeeds in this Test, he will be the joint sixth fastest bowler to achieve this.

• Zaheer Khan needs five wickets to reach the 300 mark.

• There has not been a drawn Test at the Wanderers since December 2000, when rain ruined the match against New Zealand.

• The last 12 Test matches at the Wanderers have produced a result.

• South Africa’s last loss in a home Test was in December 2011 against Sri Lanka. Since then, they have won all six home Tests.

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